Chinese Silver Fan Coins
Because of their limited mintage (66,000 per year), and their extreme popularity with all of the world’s coin collectors, the strangely-shaped Chinese Silver Fan coins sell out rapidly and are generally hard to obtain. Due to their collectible nature, they command a considerable margin over spot, which is the main feature that you need to be aware of you when you are in the market for these coins.
Because they are so collectible and so expensive, Chinese Silver Fans are a poor choice if you simply want a store of value (since you will pay much more than their melt value, meaning that you will lose money on the transaction if you use them as nothing but a hedge against inflation), but an excellent investment if you are looking to resell them at a profit in the near future. Their relative scarcity and uniqueness make them prized collector’s items.
Finding the coins you want for sale may be difficult even with the presence of Internet coin dealers, due to the quick sales of these items. If you are fortunate enough to stumble on any, you should buy them quickly before they are bought out by other interested parties.
Cultural Origins of the Chinese Silver Fans
The curving rectangular shape of the folding fan is one which is indelibly associated with the culture of the Orient, whether the fan in question is the iron war-fan of a feudal Japanese general or a delicately painted paper fan used to cool the brow of a Chinese empress, lady, or courtesan in the days of old. The distinctive shape of these fans, which often bore finely painted scenes ranging from nature to the imagined creatures of the zodiac to glimpses of human life, and even the rather elegant character of famous poem in some cases, is instantly recognizable even today.
Fans were created independently by the European and Chinese civilizations far back into the past, with the European versions originating at least two centuries earlier (and the fans of Ancient Egypt dating back several thousand years before that). These fans all originated in warm regions, where the movement of air across the skin in summer helps sweat evaporate faster, pulling excess heat out of the body as it does so. However, they soon became art objects, part of aesthetic performances, and even sacred symbols.
In the East, the now-familiar type of fan emerged in Japan during the 8th century A.D., as a development from the early fans brought from China. These folding fans achieved immense popularity on the Japanese islands, and were brought to Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries by mariners from Portugal and the Netherlands who circumnavigated the globe in search of trade and discovery. Although the Japanese soon expelled all foreigners and beheaded any who attempted to land in their country, the folding fan had been spread around the globe, yet remained the symbol of the East.
The Chinese silver fan coins are an intriguing attempt to create unique, collectible numismatics on the basis of a highly unusual shape – that of a folding fan when it is open. The first of these coins was issued in 2000, some years after the Chinese government’s highly successful introduction of the Silver Panda.
Although the decision making process of the police state’s mint is both secret and occasionally bizarre (as with the low silver content in early Pandas, and the years when none of the coins were produced at all), the silver fan series was seemingly begun simply to take advantage of the avid buying appetites of silver coin collectors both within China and outside it. There was no specific known purpose in issuing the coin other than to make money.
These coins are a very intriguing addition to the international silver bullion coin market, since they combine a unique nonstandard shape with images from the Chinese zodiac. They are eagerly sought by collectors, and it is easy to understand why. The series is still continuing, though it is uncertain if it will terminate with the release of the twelfth coin or start again in the same way as the Australian Lunar Series.
Characteristics of the Chinese Silver Fan
The Chinese Silver Fan coin contains one ounce of 99.9% pure silver (.999 fineness), just like other bullion coins, but there the resemblance ceases. Where other coins are designed with the circular shape that has been used for most of them for the past two thousand years or so, the Chinese silver fan is made to look like a folding Oriental fan with its slats open. This is achieved by making the coin an unusual rectangular shape.
The coin’s top and bottom are curved upwards, and the top edge is longer than the bottom edge. They are connected by two side edges which slope outwards from the corners of the lower edge to the corners of the upper edge. The effect is very idiosyncratic, but also highly pleasing.
The designs of both the obverse and reverse vary from year to year, which is another unique distinction of the Chinese silver fan, since most coins retain the same obverse for many years and only introduce individual variations into the designs of the reverse. There are two common themes for all of the coins in order to create a proper, satisfying sense of unity, however. The obverse shows some part of the Great Wall of China – a specific gate or tower, usually – while the reverse shows a realistic depiction of one of the animals from the Chinese zodiac (with the exception, of course, of the Year of the Dragon).
The obverse contains a row of Chinese characters along the top, and the year in standard numbering (e.g. 2004, 2011) somewhere below this row, depending on where it can best be inserted into the design. The reverse contains several Chinese symbols, the number 10, and the Chinese character for the word “Yuan”, since the nominal face value of the coins is 10 yuan. Mintage is limited to exactly 66,000 coins annually.
Chinese fans have included unique designs every year thus far, which can be summarized as follows:
• 2000. The series started in spectacular fashion with the Year of the Dragon, showing a majestic dragon soaring sinuously among stylized clouds. The obverse shows the Great Wall’s Shanghaiguan Gate, along with several small trees.
• 2001. The Year of the Snake’s coin depicts a highly realistic, slightly sinister reptile coiling amid flowers and sticking out its forked tongue to scent the air. The obverse depicts the Chenghai Lou gate tower.
• 2002. Two swiftly running horses, which almost appear to be stallions fighting, adorn this coin. The Great Wall’s Yuang Hakou Gate appears on the obverse, along with trees and cirrus clouds.
• 2003. Though this is the Year of the Goat technically, a family of fluffy sheep appears on the coin, including a curly-horned ram, a grazing ewe, and a lamb lying between his father’s feet. The obverse depicts a rugged scene of the Great Wall at Mutianyu.
• 2004. Two monkeys perch on a leafy tree branch on this coin, whose obverse shows a section of the Great Wall climbing over hills dotted with groves of trees.
• 2005. The coin for the Year of the Rooster shows a plume-tailed rooster together with a hen and three chicks, all depicted with great naturalism. The obverse’s decoration is a fortress-like enclosure in the Great Wall, located at Juyongguan.
• 2006. Two Pekingese dogs appear on the coin for the Year of the Dog, one sitting in an alert, dignified pose, the other apparently excited and playful. The Qingyuan Gate of the Great Wall occupies the obverse, with several impressionistic cumulus clouds behind it.
• 2007. A massive sow and four smug-looking piglets grace the reverse of the 2007 Silver Fan coin, made to commemorate the Year of the Pig. The Bianjing Gate of the Great Wall is visible on the obverse, bearing a strong resemblance to the Qingyuan Gate of 2006, though from a different angle.
• 2008. The Year of the Rat is celebrated with a mother rat and her nearly grown offspring, who have picked some sort of berry or grape-like fruit from a vine at the left of the coin. The Yanmen Gate is featured on the obverse.
• 2009. The Year of the Ox has a very striking design – the head of a fierce water buffalo occupying part of the foreground, and a second buffalo swimming in water in the rest of the coin. The obverse depicts the rocky approach to the Niangziguan Pass in Shanxi Province, as guarded by one of the gates of the Great Wall.
• 2010. A relaxing tiger appears on this coin, along with the slightly stylized portrait of a tiger’s face as the background. The reverse contains the stately presence of the Drum Tower, a fortification located in Jiuquan.
• 2011. This year’s offering continues the theme of a realistic picture backed by a stylized close-up which was featured on the previous two years as well. A rather perky rabbit appears on the reverse, along with a large, highly stylized depiction of a rabbit’s head. The Jiayuguan Pass fortifications of the Great Wall, with mountains and cirrus in the background, decorate the obverse.